More on the Man Booker/Literary Prize

When I set up this blog, I vowed that I would only touch peripherally on the literary prize bandwagon/farce and here I am writing my fourth post and my fourth on literary prizes. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said. There have been two burning (?) issues on the topic. The first is the issue of “readability”. When the Man Booker shortlist was announced, it was said that the were aiming for readability. This raised two issues. Firstly, did this mean that they wanted popular fiction rather than good fiction to dominate the list? And, if not, what did they mean by the word readability ? As usual, Elizabeth Baines summed up the issues admirably. As she points out, if readability is so good and it means books people read as opposed to admire, does this mean that admirable books are unreadable?  Well, no she says but, in fact, the reality is that there are many admirable books that readers consider unreadable, including some of the greats such Joyce, Kafka and Proust.  There are books that other consider great that I consider unreadable: on my site this would include David Markson and Péter Esterházy. There is nothing wrong in considering some books unreadable, even if that book is by Thomas Pynchon or James Joyce, as has been pointed out. However, do we want our foremost literary prize to award readability or quality? The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive – many readable books on my site are also of high quality.

This has been addressed by the announcement of a new literary prize to rival the Man Booker. Literary agent Andrew Kidd is the spokesperson for the prize which, as yet, does not seem to have funding. Will this prize work? Maybe. Maybe not.

The sad fact of the matter, despite Booker director Ion Trewin’s comments, is that the quality this year is not there. This is no fault of Trewin, Dame Stella Rimington or the Man Booker people. Authors have not produced. The Literary Prize might well have gone with The Stranger’s Child but that would not necessarily have been a huge improvement. It’s quite a good book but certainly not a great one.  So what are we left with?  Like Robert McCrum, I suspect it will be Julian Barnes – what the Committee thinks is, after all, the quality, but like McCrum, I am hopeless at guessing these things so I will probably be wrong and they will go with something more readable. And the Literary Prize will probably quietly fade away…

Man Booker

I was surprised to find in my morning Guardian an interview with Stella Rimington not on spying but on the Booker Prize and in the main section of the paper, not the Review section. Apparently she cannot tolerate personal abuse. Who can? Tony Blair? However, she must be aware that she is in a highly political position (Chair of the Man Booker Prize Committee for this year, if you have sensibly kept away from the all the prizes) but has made some very odd choices. In particular, she and her committee have been roundly condemned for omitting Alan Hollinghurst‘s The Stranger’s Child, a early favourite with the bookies and the public. Moreover, she has been accused of being homophobic for omitting both the Hollinghurst and Philip Hensher. I have not read the Hensher but I have read the Hollinghurst and while it certainly was not bad, it was not a great novel, either. The problem is that many of the likely contenders this year – Anne Enright‘s The Forgotten Waltz, Jane Harris‘s Gillespie and I, A L Kennedy‘s The Blue Book, Hari Kunzru‘s Gods Without Men, Graham Swift‘s Wish You Were Here and Barry Unsworth‘s The Quality of Mercywere less than brilliant, so the Committee had a real problem.

I have not read any of the short list and do not expect to. Julian Barnes, I feel, peaked with Flaubert’s Parrot, which wasn’t a novel so I have no great desire to read A Sense of Ending and none of the others inspired me, though I may be persuaded to change my mind. Books sometime can seem better later. They can also seem worse. Maybe this year is just not a very good year, with the English (and Scottish and Welsh and Irish) novel being of the same calibre as their respective rugby and cricket teams.

The Nobel Prize – the winner

transtromer

Well, at least neither Bob Dylan nor Philip Roth got it. It is definitely the turn of a poet to get it but I suspect that Tomas Tranströmer will not turn out to be a big seller. I must confess that I read very little poetry and almost none in translation so I doubt that I will read any Tranströmer. Fortunately, there is enough of his poetry in translation for those that do not read Swedish to read him. And good luck to him and thanks for sparing us from Dylan and Roth.

The Nobel Prize

As this is my first post on this blog, my aim was to talk a bit about my new website The Modern Novel but that will have to wait till another day as tomorrow is Nobel Prize for Literature day. I generally avoid literary prizes as I think that their decisions are often wrong but I cannot avoid getting caught up in the hype of the Nobel Prize and the Man Booker Prize, even though I tend to think many of their decision are really wrong. However, however silly they may be, commentators seem to be even sillier. Cases in point:

1. Someone called Michael Bourne, who writes for a site called The Millions, produced a very silly blog post in the form of an open letter to the Swedish Academy, suggesting Philip Roth get the prize. I can think of hundreds, yes hundreds of writers more deserving than Roth. I can think of many US nationals more deserving than Roth (Oates, Pynchon, DeLillo, Coover, Cormac McCarthy, Vollmann and, yes, Bob Dylan – see 2. below). I wonder if Bourne has read many non-US writers. In particular, I wonder if he has read any who write in a language other than English, in the original language. My guess is no. (My apologies in advance if I am wrong.) We all know that the USA is very US-centric but come on, Mike, as a reader, you should be aware that there is a world beyond Brooklyn and a world where not everyone speaks English. Pop downtown and you are likely to hear Russian, Spanish, Yiddish, Italian, Polish, German and many other languages spoken. Yes, Mike, people write in these languages, too, and some very good stuff. Nobel Prize winning stuff. So let’s bury the Roth campaign once and for all. He is not all that good. He does not deserve it. How’s about Goytisolo, Murakami, Farah, Nooteboom, Kadare, Handke, Butor, Ireland, Tabucchi, Tournier?
2. According to Ladbroke’s, Bob Dylan is now favourite. Oh dear, I hope this is a joke. I love Bob Dylan. He is perhaps my favourite musician. I love his lyrics. They are brilliant. But Nobel Prize? I don’t think so. But rather Bobby Z than Roth.
3. I am deliberately writing this before the announcement. Whoever wins, I won’t have guessed it, as I never do and, I suspect, many others will be wrong.